Regional Meeting in New York City: Part II
On Saturday, November 16, 2002 the Ephemera Society
scheduled a regional meeting in New York City to visit the archives
and museum at Carnegie Hall. An extra added bonus was a morning
stop at the Grolier Club to see an exhibition curated by society
member William H. Helfand entitled "Quack, Quack, Quack:
the Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera and Books."
Grolier Club, located at 47 East 60th Street, originated in 1884
when a group of bibliophiles met at the home of printing press
manufacturer and book collector Robert Hoe to discuss beginning
an organization devoted to the book arts. Everyone agreed that
the printing arts and typography of their day were in need of
reform and admired earlier production very much. Named after French
bibliophile Jean Grolier (1489/90-1565), the club has grown over
time to include over 700 members devoted to the literary study
and promotion of the arts pertaining to the production of books.
Among the club's activities are an active changing
exhibitions program that features four shows per year (to date
a total of about 600 exhibitions have been done), the maintenance
of a library, lectures, symposiums, and publications, including
modern editions of classics and exhibition catalogs. The Grolier
Club's informative and educational web site is at http://www.grolierclub.org.
Membership is by nomination, and recommendations for membership
are made on the basis of a candidate's passion for books as revealed
in his or her activities as a collector, scholar, librarian, printer,
or participation in some other bookish pursuit.
"Quack, Quack, Quack" was on display from
September 18-November 23. It showcased "the often flamboyant
sellers of nostrums and patent medicines over the course of four
centuries through visual, and often entertaining, material,"
as its promotional brochure pointed out.
Divided into ten sections, ranging from the ways
of itinerant quacks to the frequent rivalry among sellers of panaceas,
from extravagant marketing techniques to the first governmental
restrictions placed on the more flagrant abuses and abusers, the
show included 185 items all drawn from the collection of Bill
Helfand, who has written, lectured and exhibited extensively on
the history of drugs and pharmacae and on prints, caricatures,
posters, and ephemera.
Over time the quack has been both a popular and
profitable subject for American and European artists and writers,
including William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier, Maxfield Parrish,
Jules Chéret and H.G. Wells, all of whom are represented
in the exhibition. At the same time, some of the most graphic
and spirited work has been created by unknown and lesser-known
individuals. A Dutch engraving, "Hyacum et Lues Venera,"
showing a 16th century cure for syphilis; a twelve-scene wood
engraving called "Medical Confessions of Medical Murder,"
which uses a quotation from Shakespeare to help market pills for
sale by quack James Morison; "The Health Jolting Chair,"
a color lithograph of a seated woman showing the promised "most
highly prized Feminine Attractions" thanks to the wonders
of electricity; and a British cartoon, "The Traveling Quack,"
are all highlighted.
Society members in attendance at the Grolier Club
were treated to a special walkthrough of the exhibit by Bill Helfand.
Spending time in front of each case and wall display, Bill spoke
about the importance of many of the items shown and talked about
how he had acquired them, adding information to his already edifying
Attesting to the importance of the exhibit, the
British ephemera society, in its quarterly newsletter, The
Ephemerist, devoted its cover story to the show, including
five of its most compelling illustrations.
A symposium and catalog accompanied the exhibition.
Held on October 9, the symposium featured five speakers covering
such topics as the history of American and French quackery, medical
advertising in almanacs, anatomical museums, and booksellers,
circulating libraries, and proprietary medicines. The catalog,
a 256-page hardcover book that shares the name of the exhibition,
is still available from the Grolier Club for $40.00. It contains
nearly 200 illustrations, many in color, and wonderfully descriptive
text. In addition, an abbreviated version of "Quack, Quack,
Quack" is available via the Grolier Club's Web site.
E. Richard McKinstry